Book Review: Assessing Asian Military Strategies

25 Mar, 2013    ·   3853

Rishika Chauhan reviews “Clashing Titans: Military Strategy and Insecurity Among Asian Great Powers” authored by Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Clashing Titans: Military Strategy and Insecurity Among Asian Great Powers
Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan
Knowledge World Publishers, New Delhi, 2012

With the emergence of Asia as the referent point of varied strategies and policies the world over, academics and policy makers have churned out a multitude of literature on the topic. Perhaps it is the need of the hour, since Asia is gaining relevance in the economic, political, as well as military fronts. Though there is no dearth of books analysing the power-shift towards Asia, and its repercussions on regional and global power dynamics, no work has, as yet, attempted to compare the military strategies and modernisation process of the Asian powers. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan’s book is a timely effort that not only fills many gaps in the existing literature, but also provides a supplement to many studies which chose to ignore military matters.

The title, “Clashing Titans: Military Strategy and Insecurity Among Asian Great Powers”, prepares the reader for what is in store; a comprehensive description and comparison of the military strategies of major Asian powers, from an aware and experienced Indian perspective. While her first two books, “The Dragon's Fire: Chinese Military Strategy and Its Implications for Asia”, and “Uncertain Eagle: US Military Strategy in Asia”, dealt with China and the US’ military strategies, the latest casts its net wide and concentrates on the military strategies of China, the US, Russia, and Japan, while exploring the implications for India and the region in general.

Military Strategies: China, the US, Russia, and Japan
Cooperation and competition is a function of military postures and strategies of states. The author explains how differences among ‘rising’ Asian powers and their history of mutual suspicion, led to uncertainties. She explores post Cold-War stability, which paved the way for insecurity and laid a key emphasis on military strategy. US unilateralism, especially during the Bush Presidency fuelled by perceptions of American decline, the rise of an economically strong and militarily powerful China, as well as North Korean ‘adventurism’, has made this region insecure. Cooperation being ‘occasional’, the increasing securitisation of issues, can spiral a period of instability and uncertainty. She explains that the trend in military strategies and modernisation may spark rivalry resulting in a contest for power and the possibility of a ‘clash between the titans’.

The term ‘Asian’ is understood beyond geography as interests, and the impact on the region is taken as a yardstick. Hence, the US qualifies as an Asian power and so does Russia. US policies have short and long-term implications for the Asian continent, irrespective of its presence or absence in the region. Russian interests in Asia, as well as its obsession with China in its military strategy, makes Russia a subject of analysis in the study. Its import in shaping the Asian and global security architecture is also worth adequate consideration.

China’s ambitious military modernisation, a signal of the state’s growing global aspirations, is given sufficient attention in the study. Acknowledging the anxiety of Asian states over China’s activities, relevant and latest data is supplemented with historical facts to explain the state of affairs. Perceptions of China’s neighbours get appropriate importance when the author asserts ‘it is perceptions that dominate foreign policy formulation and military planning’.

Interconnections and Comparisons
While discussing the nuances of military strategies, subtle interconnections between the military strategies of the four powers are highlighted, along with the effect that each has on the region. When the author asserts that Beijing’s ‘hegemonic’ behaviour in Asia has contributed to security-insecurity dilemma, the US’s presence in Asia is stabilising. Russia still has the ‘attitude’ and national spirit of a superpower and there will be a regional impact if Japan starts building its navy, the readers find themselves nodding in assent.

Arguing that military strategies are in conformity with the economic might of states and consistent with their overall standing in the ‘global scheme of power’, she sets on to compare the military strategies and modernisation of the four powers. Elucidating how military spending impacts military strategies, the author does not believe that military modernisation always leads to instability. China’s preference for offensive and violent grand strategies is well brought out in this section, and so is the US’s contemplation between preponderance and offshore balancing.

Drawing implications for India from the study, the author states that the China-US-India relationship would qualify as a ‘negative-sum game’. There is a tactical and strategic impact of growing Russia-China ties on India. Nevertheless, it will be in Indian interests to have a strong US presence in Asia. Weighing various scenarios, the author asks a question, ‘is a multipolar Asia possible?’ Summing up on a positive note, she provides the answer, acknowledging the role that India and Japan will have to play in shaping a democratic, multipolar Asia. Accepting the presence of the ‘dragon’ in the region, her final thoughts echo the hunch of many scholars. She admits that China’s acceptance and participation in democracy, human rights, and peaceful resolution of territorial disputes can prevent ‘titans from clashing’.

The idea behind the book, the author states while introducing her study, is to gain an understanding of military strategies. However, in the process of exploring the military strategies of the four powers, she ends up doing much more. Viewing from a realist lens, topics ranging from nuclear weapons, to cyber warfare and asymmetric strategies in space, have all been covered. However, overcome by the need to emphasise, the book gets repetitive at times. The book cannot be compared to any other work since no study has dealt with a comparison this intense. Written by a non-military person, it is a well conceptualised and executed work, which can benefit policy makers as well as students.